IN DEBATE: C-45 OMNIBUS, on Pensions and Navigable Waters

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

There are many things wrong with the bill, but first and foremost, Bill C-45 is another omnibus bill that conspires to ram a wide range of unrelated legislation through Parliament. Despite claims from the Minister of Finance, much of this legislation is not included in the budget from earlier this year. The problem with an omnibus bill is that it does not allow MPs to properly study, understand and review the legislation. The very purpose of Parliament and the reason that we are here as MPs is to review legislation and improve the laws governing our country. This omnibus bill is a flagrant attempt to prevent MPs from doing their jobs. This is an obvious disservice to Canadians who elected us to represent them.

Due to the size of Bill C-45 I do not have time to outline all the issues that I have with it, so I will restrict my focus to only three sections of the bill.

First, I want to talk about the sections that relate to pooled registered pension plans, or PRPPs. New Democrats have been very clear that we need pension reform. However, the PRPPs are not the solution. Canadians do not have extra money for investing. As it stands now, Canadians are not investing in RRSPs. PRPPs are just another scheme that will have little pickup. Why on earth does the government think people will start investing in PRPPs? If they do not have the money they cannot invest. Those who do invest in PRPPs will find much of their investment siphoned off by banks and institutions through management fees. PRPPs are another scheme that will add to bank profits, with a poor benefit for individual Canadians.

Seniors represent one of the fastest growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million right now to 9.8 million by 2036. With so many more seniors retiring in the years to come, we need to have the social safety net in place now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty among those seniors in future. We need real pension reform and not a savings scheme that is dependent on the ups and downs of the stock market. Recent bad experiences in the markets remind Canadians how ineffective that kind of savings is. Too many saw their savings crumble away as the markets took a nosedive. This is not how savings for retirement should be organized.

For employees, a PRPP is like a defined contribution or group RRSP. It is a savings vehicle, limited by RRSP limits and regulations, purported to allow workers to save for retirement, but it does not guarantee retirement security. PRPPs are managed by the financial industry, the same crew receiving huge corporate tax breaks from the Conservatives. The PRPP is not a defined benefit plan. It does not provide a secure retirement income with a set replacement rate of pre-retirement income. It is not fully transferrable. It is not indexed to inflation and therefore will not increase with the increasing cost of living.

It is noteworthy that employers, not employees, will decide the contribution levels and it will not be mandatory for employers to contribute or match workers' contributions to PRPPs. Without employers contributing, it is not really a pension plan. In fact, employers who do not help their employees save for retirement could end up with a competitive advantage over employers who do.

The best option for Canadians is to double the CPP/QPP. We could do that for the cost to an employee of a couple of dollars a week. This is the best option for Canadians. The money invested would not be going toward big bank profits but would go in to the retirees' pockets when they retire.

I want to highlight one more thing about the PRPP section of the bill. It is long and complicated. It needs to be studied on its own as a separate bill. By slapping this into the omnibus budget bill, we cannot do our due diligence as MPs. We cannot give it the proper critical scrutiny it needs. To be frank, we know the PRPP legislation has passed and is going ahead. Consequently, we do need to make changes in tax legislation.

However, there is no reason for this piece to be in the budget bill. This should be a separate bill that could be scrutinized to ensure that no mistakes are made. It is the reasonable and logical thing to do.

The second section of the bill that I want to talk about today is the portion on public sector pensions. Bill C-45 sets out to increase public sector employee contributions to 50% regardless of the date of hiring, increase the age of retirement from 60 to 65 for all employees hired after January 1, 2013, eliminate the ability for public servants to take early retirement without penalty after 30 years of continuous service, and only allows employees hired after January 1, 2013 to be eligible for early retirement after 30 years of service if they are 60 or older. It is also noteworthy that employees who are 55 or older with 25 or more years of service are eligible for a reduced pension.

New Democrats are concerned that this legislation is creating a two-tiered workforce in which younger people have to work longer for the same retirement benefits as their predecessors. This appears to be part of a greater agenda by the government to force young people to pay the price for the government's tax breaks to large corporations.

The Conservatives are taking no measures to curb youth unemployment, and we know that it is the young people today whose OAS benefits will not kick in until they are aged 67. It is their retirement security that is in jeopardy. They are paying more for goods and services, making less money and their pensions are being cut.

I want to add that the public service has acted as a model for best practice, and had the ability to attract the best and brightest to serve this country. They work to ensure our country runs smoothly. They work to ensure federal services are available to Canadians, federal regulations are in place and solid. They work behind the scenes to draft and improve legislation. They do research and ever so much more. They ensure that this country runs efficiently.

This legislation will jeopardize the ability of the government to attract the best and the brightest. We cannot afford to risk losing such an integral element of government administration.

I want to note that I am pleased that we were able to split off the MP portion of the bill, but would like to note how disappointing it was that my colleagues in the other parties were quite happy to lump in changes to the public service pension changes with this split. This would have left us with no opportunity to debate or address the changes to the public services portion of the bill.

The third section of the bill I wish to discuss is the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Canadians have made it clear that they want us to take action to protect their environment and grow a sustainable economy for the future, while the Conservatives are focused on gutting environmental protection.

The changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act are a prime example of Conservative mismanagement. The government has determined, with the exception of a list of three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers, that the Act will no longer automatically apply to projects affecting waterways. This will leave thousands of waterways unprotected, meaning fewer environmental reviews by Transport Canada.

The bill would remove water protection from the name of the bill. Now it is just about navigation protection.

Of Canada's 37 designated Canadian heritage rivers, only 10 are included in the new act. One heritage river left off is the Thames River that runs through my community and riding in London, Ontario. The Thames is an important part of our local economy and a part of the fabric of our community, part of its history. These changes would put our river at risk.

To conclude, the NDP will always be proud to stand up for transparency and accountability. We will always stand up for the environment and we will always stand up for retirement, security and health care. In short, we will stand up for Canada.

I would like to seek unanimous consent to move the following motion. I move:

That notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, clauses 464 to 514, related to public sector pensions, be removed from Bill C-45, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012, and other measures, and do compose Bill C-47, and that Bill C-47 be entitled an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Public Service Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act,

That Bill C-47 be deemed read a first time and be printed, and that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates; that Bill C-45 retain the status on the order paper that it had prior to the adoption of this order; that Bill C-45 be reprinted as amended; and that the law clerk and parliamentary counsel be authorized to make any technical changes or corrections as may be necessary to give effect to this motion.

 We are proposing this motion in order to ensure that Canada's Parliament can fully scrutinize the legislation that is before us and look out for Canadians.

 

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): Does the hon. member for London—Fanshawe have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Some hon. members: No.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): There is no consent.

 

Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from the NDP to do something. It might not be fair, but I am going to ask her to try to figure out what the thinking of the government was in this particular case.

The bill that has come forward in fact changes a number of different aspects of the EI system. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is currently looking at Bill C-44. We have allocated five days for the study on that. It should impact maybe 6,000 people in Canada each year.

Changes made in the bill are going to impact 750,000 to 900,000 people, and yet there is no study. It is being rammed through in this particular piece of legislation.

My question to my colleague is, what would she see as the rationale for doing something like this, and making those changes to the EI system?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, this entire mess around changes to employment insurance, quite frankly, befuddle me.

This is a spiral downward for workers who have contributed so much to our Canadian economy and who provide for their families. It is very clear to me that the objective here is to make Canada into a low-wage economy.

All the government cares about is its friends in the corporate sector, those who make huge profits, and by reducing the wages of Canadians and making them suffer in an unfair employment insurance system, it is ensuring that its friends are getting that extra benefit.

The government has no interest in the social safety net of this country. It has reduced transfers in regard to health care. It has undermined the old age security system and now the employment insurance system. It wants to destroy our safety net not protect it.

 

Mme Sadia Groguhé (Saint-Lambert, NPD): Monsieur le Président, je voudrais féliciter ma collègue pour son discours.

Bien évidemment, elle a soulevé que des questions de fond ne pourront malheureusement pas être débattues en profondeur. Cela est bien dommageable, lorsqu'il s'agit de pouvoir débattre, en tant que parlementaires, de façon claire sur des lois qui s'imposent à nous de façon brutale, encore une fois, avec ce projet de loi omnibus.

Ma collègue a parlé du régime de pensions de la fonction publique, et plus précisément, de l'impact des changements qui y seront apportés et qui vont concerner les prochaines générations, en obligeant celles-ci à être dans un système à double vitesse. Peut-elle nous en dire un peu plus?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, the government is very clearly going after any individual who is hired after January 1, 2013. That individual will not have the same pension benefits as individuals who are currently in the public service. In addition to that, they will face penalties if they retire with 30 years of service but are not age 65.

That is simply not acceptable. We all know that once they put in 30 or 35 years of service, there is a time when they feel compelled to leave that line of work and retire. That is no longer possible. It is regrettable because, quite literally, people do wear out. They need to take retirement.

What concerns me the most is the approach of the government. What it has done is pit one group of people against another. It does it all the time, but in this instance it is appealing to the basest instincts of people who do not understand that our job here is not to cut down those who have a decent, secure retirement but to raise up the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who do not. That is what the government should be doing instead of taking pot shots at people who help us run this country.